When you have a few days off – as I just did during a lazy beach vacation in Maine – your mind starts to wander to some strange places. And one of the sticking points I couldn’t get out of my head this entire vacation was one question: If you’re a Stormtrooper or an officer in the Galactic Empire and Darth Vader is about to pass you in the hall, what do you do? Seriously, what’s an appropriate response? Would you just ignore him stoically? Do you stop and acknowledge with a full bow and a, “My Lord.” Or do you give a little nod?
I honestly can’t figure this out. Obviously, the first answer would be “just go in a different direction,” as we saw some Stormtroopers do in The Force Awakens with Kylo Ren. But most of the time that’s not really possible. Especially in The Empire Strikes Back, as Vader is on a mission to kill every officer who slights or wrongs him in any way, there aren’t a lot of options for alternative hallways on that Star Destroyer. And the thing is, with Darth Vader, he’s probably going to pick up on the fact, eventually, that some people are just avoiding him and that will no doubt end with a, “You there, why do you keep avoiding me? I’ll give you something to avoid [choke].”
Anyway, all this took me down another, somewhat related, Star Wars rabbit hole. One of the many criticisms of the prequels is how whiny Anakin Skywalker is portrayed, and how did he ever become the towering villain of the Original Trilogy? And Vader is legitimately scary in The Empire Strikes Back – at least to the Rebels and a viewer. But all the while, the military leaders in the Galactic Empire all seem to kind of think he’s a putz. Even as Vader is Force choking the life out of officer after officer, it’s kind of amazing how little respect Vader gets. It’s pretty obvious they all think he’s an idiot.
The scene that always gets a lot of attention in all this is the scene from the original Star Wars where Vader Force chokes Admiral Motti and tells Motti, “I find your lack of faith disturbing.” This all happens because Motti mocks Vader to his face – something that is so obviously done behind Vader’s back, but Motti had the gall to do it right to Vader’s face.
Motti is spared when Tarkin tells Vader to “release him.” Now, right here we have a problem. Vader doesn’t really have what you’d call a traditional “rank.” So if you are in the Galactic Empire, it all has to be at least a little confusing. Do I report to Vader? Does Vader report to me? Tarkin is bossing him around; can I boss him around? Is he just here? Imagine being in the military and all of a sudden someone dressed like Vader is standing there, with no explanation, and he has opinions and seems to have magical powers.
So if you watch Empire closely, the Imperial Officers are all still mocking him. When Vader is certain the Rebels are on Hoth, Admiral Ozzel, in the most condescending tone possible, explains to Vader why he is wrong. (He wasn’t wrong.) Ozzel then tries this again when he explains why coming out of light speed too close to Hoth was a good idea and finally Vader kills him. Now, this seemed to teach a lesson to the other Imperial Officers that when we mock Vader, we should do it behind his back. And they do! When Vader assembles the bounty hunters, two officers start whispering, “Bounty hunters, we don’t need their scum.” Basically, “Why is dummy hiring bounty hunters? What an idiot.” (The Imperial Officers have a point here. Vader is offering a reward for the capture of the Millennium Falcon. As Vader makes that offer, the Millennium Falcon is literally right in front of a Star Destroyer. I wish Bossk would have just said, “It’s right there, you guys are shooting at it, pay me.”)
Even in the opening moments of Return of the Jedi, Vader tells Moff Jerjerrod that he’s not happy with the progression of the second Death Star and Jerjerrod basically tells Vader, “Sorry, buddy, it ain’t happening.” It’s not until Vader tells Jerjerrod that the Emperor is coming that Jerjerrod says, “We’ll double our efforts.”